In this dissertation, I ask what happens when spectatorship becomes unsettled by troubling ethical questions directed by the play-world at the spectator.
In Chapter One I approach the problem of performance studies" a discipline in which definitions and aims are still hotly contested. In recent years, a new approach to performance has come to prominence through the work of the International Federation for Theatre Research, studying theatre as event. From the works of John Tulloch and Willmar Sauter, I take certain concepts and methodologies, such as frames, borders, and contexts, and analysis and description of audience reaction and composition. I expand on their work by linking this school of performance studies to phenomenological studies of the event by Jean-Luc Marion and Claude Romano. I show how earlier performance theory from a phenomenological standpoint can be enhanced by these notions of the event as unforeseen and the spectator as a receiver who is, in a sense, constructed by the event and not constructing it from his own intending consciousness.
I then look at specific ethical quandaries provoked by performances of Antonin Artaud’s, Samuel Beckett’s and Martin McDonagh’s works. In Artaud, I look at the apparent inconsistencies between his acclaimed theories and the dismal performance histories. Comparing him with British playwright, Sarah Kane, I conclude that any Theatre of Cruelty, even in 1990s Britain, alienates audiences because it forces spectators into an uncomfortable proximity to the artist’s mental and physical anguish. Chapter Three takes up the question of the centrality of Waiting for Godot’s popularity in prison theatre venues and programs to the creation of an Existentialist “Godot construct." By comparing the prison machine to the Cartesian mind-body unity, I conclude that these performances force the spectators who watch them on video recording into an uncomfortable position of dual identification: both with the Godot-machine (the penal system which represents them) and with the actor-inmates, pursuing and at times rejecting an Existentialist concept of freedom. In the final chapter I examine the role of laughter in Martin McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy, and the role of postmodern kitsch and multimedia intertextuality in simultaneously globalizing and hyper-localizing McDonagh. Familiarity with globalized pop culture lulls audiences into incriminating laughter and, often, outrage.